Six US troops killed in Afghanistan – Politico

With Louis Nelson

SIX U.S. TROOPS KILLED IN AFGHANISTAN IN SUICIDE ATTACK: The Associated Press writes on Monday’s attack near Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan: “A suicide attacker rammed an explosives-laden motorcycle into a joint NATO-Afghan patrol Monday, killing six American troops in the deadliest attack on international forces since August. Two U.S. troops and an Afghan were wounded. The soldiers were targeted as they moved through a village near Bagram Airfield, the largest U.S. military facility in Afghanistan, NATO and Afghan officials said. The Taliban claimed responsibility.”

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“A U.S. official confirmed that six American troops were killed and two wounded. An Afghan was also wounded. … In New York, Police Commissioner William Bratton said Monday that a New York City police detective, Joseph Lemm, was one of the six American killed in the attack. Lemm was a 15-year-old veteran of the New York Police Department and worked in the Bronx Warrant Squad. Bratton says Lemm served in the U.S. National Guard and, while a member of the police force, he had been deployed twice to Afghanistan and once to Iraq.”

— CARTER STATEMENT ON THE ATTACK: “It is with deep regret that I learned today that six U.S. service members died in Afghanistan Monday. We are still learning all of the details, but two other service members and a U.S. contractor were also injured. They died after a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack on their patrol outside Bagram Air Base. It serves as a painful reminder of the dangers our troops face every day in Afghanistan.”

— TRAIN AND ADVISE VS. COMBAT: Monday’s attacks will serve as a reminder that despite all the attention the Islamic State is getting, the U.S. still has 9,800 troops in Afghanistan. And while the U.S. official combat mission may have ended, that does not mean U.S. troops won’t face combat there. Pentagon leaders have been willing to say this when pressed by reporters, even if the White House has not. But Monday’s attack will certainly spur the debate in Washington over whether the U.S. should draw down — or withdraw completely — from Afghanistan by the end of 2016.

— BRITAIN DEPLOYS TROOPS TO HELMAND, also via the AP: Fierce battles were underway Tuesday between Afghan forces and the Taliban in southern Helmand province where the insurgents have almost completely captured a strategic district as Britain announced it was deploying advisers to the restive area. … A British Ministry of Defense statement late Monday said ‘a small number of U.K. personnel’ have been deployed to Helmand “in an advisory role.” The U.K. has 450 troops in Afghanistan as part of NATO’s training mission.”

STICKING THE LANDING — SPACEX ROCKET LAUNCHES, THEN LANDS BACK AT CAPE CANAVERAL: Reuters has more here on SpaceX successfully bringing its Falcon 9 rocket back to the ground Monday evening, a development that could have major implications for the rocket business: “A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket blasted off from Florida on Monday with a payload of communications satellites before the reusable main-stage booster turned around, soared back to Cape Canaveral and landed safely near its launch pad in a dramatic spaceflight first.”

“The successful mission, capped by delivery of all 11 satellites to orbit for launch customer ORBCOMM Inc, unfolded in just over 30 minutes and marked a pivotal reversal of fortunes for privately owned Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX, founded by high-tech entrepreneur Elon Musk. It was the first flight for his California-based company since a rocket failure in June that destroyed a cargo ship being carried on a resupply mission bound for the International Space Station.

“The upgraded, 23-story-tall Falcon 9 rocket lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station at 8:29 p.m. EST, with the nine-engine suborbital main stage returning 10 minutes later to a landing site about 6 miles south of its launch pad. The upper-stage booster continued its ascent to Earth orbit with its payload. Musk has said the ability to return his rockets to Earth so they can be refurbished and reflown would slash his company’s operational costs in the burgeoning and highly competitive private space launch industry.”

— ROLL THE TAPE: SpaceX posted a high-resolution video of the landing here.

HAPPY TUESDAY AND WELCOME TO MORNING DEFENSE, where we’re always on the lookout for tips, pitches and feedback. Email us at jherb@politico.com, and follow on Twitter @jeremyherb, @morningdefense and @politicopro.

PROGRAMMING NOTE: Morning D is taking a break for the holidays! We’ll be in your inbox on Wednesday, then off Christmas Eve through New Year’s. We’ll be back bright and early on Monday, Jan. 4 to kick off what’s sure to be a busy year in Washington and on the campaign trail. During the holidays, you can follow Pro Defense coverage here.

READER FEEDBACK — SHOULD MORNING D PLAY TRIVIA? A daily trivia question is a staple of our friends at POLITICO’s congressional tipsheet, The Huddle. So, Morning D is thinking of adding its own weekly defense-themed trivia contest in the new year. Let us know if you’d like to play at jherb@politico.com.

HAPPENING TODAY — DoD BRIEF ON ISLAMIC STATE OPERATIONS: The Pentagon has one more press briefing before Christmas: Army Col. Steve Warren, spokesman for the U.S. campaign against the Islamic State, briefs from Baghdad this morning to give an update on U.S. operations in Iraq and Syria.

2016 WATCH — GRAHAM DROPS WHITE HOUSE BID: It’s all over for the senior senator from South Carolina, at least when it comes to his 2016 White House aspirations. Sen. Lindsey Graham announced on Monday he’s suspending his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, and the GOP field lost its staunchest defense hawk and effectively the last veteran in the race (besides former Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore). Our colleague Katie Glueck has more: “Graham on Monday bowed out of the presidential race after failing to attract any significant support, despite his memorable zingers and passionate commitment to pushing a hawkish foreign policy agenda.

“His announcement came on the same day as the deadline hit for him to remove his name from the South Carolina primary ballot, a date that had been closely watched amid speculation that Graham would want to avoid a potentially poor performance in his own state’s contest. ‘I was hoping not to have to make this call, but I think the time has come for me to suspend my campaign,’ he said as he opened a call with supporters on Monday morning.”

— WE’LL MISS THE ZINGERS: Graham never gained traction in the polls, but he did get some notoriety for his one-liners at debates and on the trail. POLITICO’s Daniel Strauss compiled nine of the best here.

— WHAT IT MEANS FOR FOREIGN POLICY HAWKS: When he entered the race, Graham contended he saw a path to the GOP nomination, but his bigger mission appeared to be shifting the campaign conversation toward the fight against the Islamic State and defense hawks. Graham leaves a race that’s now decidedly focused on foreign policy and national security after the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino. But it’s worth noting: So far, no one has laid out as detailed agenda as Graham for going after the Islamic State.

WAR REPORT — RIGHTS GROUP WANTS U.S. AIRSTRIKE ON HOSPITAL PROBED AS POTENTIAL WAR CRIME, via POLITICO’s Michael Crowley: “The Pentagon should investigate an October U.S. airstrike on an Afghan hospital as a potential war crime, Human Rights Watch has urged Defense Secretary Ash Carter in a letter obtained by POLITICO. ‘We believe that there is a strong basis for determining that criminal liability exists,’ Sarah Margon, the group’s Washington director, wrote to Carter late last week. She added that any investigation should occur outside the U.S. military chain of command in Afghanistan to avoid undue influence and questions about its credibility.”

RUSSIA SAYS THE BLACK BOX FROM DOWNED WARPLANE IS UNREADABLE, reports Reuters: “Investigators in Moscow said on Monday they were unable to retrieve information from the damaged black box of a Russian warplane shot down by Turkey last month, data the Kremlin hoped would support its version of what happened. Russia’s Defense Ministry publicly opened the recorder last week, hoping its contents would confirm Moscow’s assertions that the bomber did not stray into Turkish airspace and was maliciously downed.

“‘Retrieving the information and a read out of flight data … has proven to be impossible because of internal damage,’ said Sergei Bainetov, the Russian Air Force’s deputy head of flight safety. Bainetov said 13 of the flight recorder’s 16 microchips had been destroyed and that those remaining were damaged.”

SO LONG, FAREWELL — AIR FORCE CANCELS 2016 TOUR OF TOPS IN BLUE TROUPE, via Military Times: “For years, Tops in Blue has been derided by airmen who think it’s an outdated waste of money that should be shut down. But those complaints have been ignored — until now. The Air Force announced in a release Monday it is canceling the 2016 season of its traveling song-and-dance troupe to allow “an extended review of the program.” The Air Force had directly asked rank-and-file airmen — for the first time — what they think of the group in October. The results were not kind to Tops in Blue.”

SPEED READ

— The European Union extends sanctions against Russia for another six months: The Washington Post

— Iraq’s armed forces begin an attack into the center of Ramadi to try to drive out Islamic State militants: Reuters

— Islamic State militants in eastern Afghanistan are using the radio airwaves to try to win recruits: Reuters

— Afghanistan’s air force will receive its first fixed-wing aircraft next month, boosting its limited close-air support capability: Military Times

— A pair of Turkish defense contractors run a test flight of an armed drone: Defense News

— U.S. nuclear-armed submarines are making foreign port visits for the first time in more than a decade: AP

— An Air Force captain whose daughter was permanently disabled during birth at an Army hospital petitions the Supreme Court to reconsider the Feres Doctrine, which prohibits service members from suing the federal government over damaged related to their military service: Military Times

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